Visiting family friends and relatives is hard for many kids. But for kids who learn and think differently, not knowing what to expect or how to behave can be especially tricky. These simple strategies can help.
1. Describe the scene.
How many people will be there? Who are they? Just knowing the basic facts can help put young children at ease. The more details you can provide, the better. Does Uncle Al have an especially loud laugh? Is the TV always on at Aunt Ruth’s house?
Paint a picture of who and what your child might see, hear and experience. This keeps kids from feeling blindsided when they walk in the door.
2. Talk about physical boundaries.
Are your relatives a hugging bunch? Make sure your child knows ahead of time. Could your child give a high-five or a fist-bump instead? If not, consider letting your relatives know that your child is more the smile-and-wave type.
3. Run through house rules.
Are the cousins not allowed to play video games? Are no shoes allowed? Tell your child what’s expected of kids wherever you’re going. This way your child can anticipate what to do, wear, or bring.
4. Role-play family interactions.
Prep your child for small talk by practicing greetings and conversations. How will your child answer questions like “How’s school?” What will the grandparents want to hear about? In the days leading up to the visit, brainstorm a new topic each day and write it down. Then go over them the morning of the gathering.
5. Find getaway spots.
What if it’s just too much for your child? Encourage taking a solo break to recharge. Ask the host if there’s a semi-private spot your child can retreat to as needed.
You can also create a check-in system. For example, kids can whisper a code word—“break,” perhaps—in your ear when they need to slip away. Think about what you’ll say to anyone who wonders why your child left. If for some reason family members tease your child for escaping, here’s what you can do.
6. Bring distractions.
Have your child bring quiet activities to do alone. These might include puzzles, books, or non-messy crafts. Make sure your child knows that other kids might want to play with them, too.
As a fallback plan, you can stash a couple of small toys or activities in your bag or coat pocket. If you notice your child is getting really bored or antsy, take them out. Sometimes, a new toy can buy you an extra hour of visiting time.
7. Agree on a check-in signal and departure time.
Before the visit, decide what time you’ll be leaving. If your child needs your attention before it’s time to go, a special wave or a code phrase can be useful. Or you could just ask your child a simple question: “Honey, would you like to take a walk?”
Do your best to leave when you agreed you would. This shows your child you’re sincere about making the visit as comfortable as possible.